The relationship in both form and content between Japan’s samurai cinema and the westerns of the United States spans well over half a century. 1960 marked one of the biggest and most successful crossovers between the two when John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven was released. An adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven was greeted by boffo box office receipts, despite garnering mixed reviews. Although none have stood up as well as the original which is now viewed as a classic of the genre, the film did spawn three sequels and more importantly, opened the floodgates for further adaptations.
One of those adaptations, Sergio Leone’s 1964 entry A Fistful of Dollars, was also adapted from a Kurosawa film, 1961’s Yojimbo. In addition to jumpstarting the entire subgenre of Spaghetti Westerns and making a film star of Clint Eastwood, Fistful spawned two sequels of its own, For a Few Dollars More and the seminal The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Eastwood, as we all know, would go on to star in several more films over the years and made his final appearance in straight western fare in 1992’s Unforgiven, which tells the story of a retired gunfighter named William Munny who once again goes out on the road to collect a much needed bounty.
Now, in a brilliant reverse of the norm, Warner Brothers Japan is filming an adaptation of Unforgiven. Titled Yurusarezaru mono in it’s native Japanese, the film is being marketed under its source’s inherently awesome title to English audiences as, you guessed it, Unforgiven.
Moving the action from America’s Midwest in 1880 to Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido in the same year, the film is being helmed by award-winning director Sang-il Lee, who also served as writer. Subbing for Munny’s murderous thief of “notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition”, will be Jubee Kamata, a retired samurai whom I can yet only imagine is cut from similar cloth. Playing Kamata is Ken Watanabe, a man familiar to American audiences for turns in the groundbreaking Christopher Nolan features Batman Begins and Inception, as well as the East-meets-West epic The Last Samurai, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Also worth noting would be the fact that while it probably bore little influence on the production, Eastwood and Watanabe have crossed paths before. Eastwood directed Watanabe in his Best Picture nominee Letters from Iwo Jima, the Japanese language companion piece to his WWII drama Flags of Our Fathers. Rounding out the cast are Akira Emoto, Koichi Sato, Shioli Kutsuna, and Yûya Yagira in the Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Anna Thomson, and Jaimz Woolvett (the Schofield Kid) roles, respectively.
The film is set for a September 13, 2013 release in Japan. Hopefully the film gains a US distributor, at which point we will be afforded an English trailer and potential release date, but for now we have this short teaser to keep us busy.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Unforgiven and the western genre in general. The aforementioned Seven Samurai and Yojimbo are also amongst my favorite films ever made and I adore Ken Watanabe to no end. This just jumped to the top of my must-sees for the next couple years.
True film fandom really is a roller coaster of emotions, both high and low, and right now I’m definitely coasting on a high. The only other project that could make 2014 better at present would be the still-gestating and under-funded Charlie Kaufman effort Frank or Francis, which I hope to tell you all about soon.
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